If you’re wondering how to write a story like a professional, you need to know what makes a story tick! Immersive settings, tone, sensory details… we’re here to go over it all. Ready?
According to writer Joseph Epstein, “81 percent of Americans feel that they have a book in them — and should write it.” That’s approximately 200 million people who aspire to authorship.
200 million people?! Woah!
This statistic may seem inflated at first. But how many people (including yourself) do you know aspires to ‘write a book one day’? For me, I can name at least twenty.
That’s a lot of people! There is obviously a thirst for literary achievement out there. But writing a book doesn’t come without obstacles. To be truthful, out of those twenty people I recall, only two have written and published a novel.
Because once you pass the brilliant daydreams about being a best-selling author and earning thousands of dollars in passive income, you soon realize something:
Writing is hard.
Knowing how to write a story
Actually, writing is hard for everyone. Even the pros! Writing is fluid, ideas are changing, and keeping on for 50K-150K words is quite the marathon.
Thankfully, I have a secret. Knowing how to write a story comes from understanding the basics of stories. That’s right. Just the basics. If you can master the formulas of the basics, I guarantee you can write any story, any time, at any length.
So let’s begin with Basic Component #1 of How to Write a Story: your setting.
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Crafting an immersive setting
Easy, right? Just ask yourself where your story/scene is taking place. Is it in the city or countryside? Are we in space or beneath the sea?
Establishing the location of your narrative and the geographical identifiers is essential for creating a sense of place within a story. It also gives the reader context for what to expect. There aren’t any monkeys swinging around in the arctic circle, and you won’t find a corporate skyscraper in the rural realm of a fantasy setting. By including the location details, you allow your reader to become immersed in the scene instantly.
But maybe you aren’t writing about some vast landscape or bustling city. Perhaps your narrative is told entirely within the space of a 10 X 10 room, and it doesn’t matter where on the map the room exists. Don’t be fooled! That room is still your location, so don’t hesitate to sink your reader inside.
Imagine watching a Star Wars space battle, and there is only a blank screen where the great expanse of space and stars should be. Just ships flying through nothingness. It wouldn’t have the same effect, would it? In fact, you’d probably be very confused. Stories need to show the readers where they are, just as a movie must.
2. Time of year/time of day
When is your story taking place? Is it bright outside, or dark because it’s winter and snowing? Or perhaps your main character just hit his alarm at 6:15 am, just like every other morning. Show these details. Paint a picture of the sky, temperature, noises/lack thereof that correspond with time.
(Halftime check-in! Are you feeling alright? Understanding how to write a story can be overwhelming, but I’m here for you! You GOT THIS!!)
The mood is the ‘feel’ of your setting. Is it creepy? Bright and hopeful? Crowded and full of worry? The mood of your setting will let your reader know how they should feel, and how your character feels.
Again, show these details, even if they aren’t physical descriptors. Paint the story, don’t just tell it. For instance, if a man is lost in the woods and scared, don’t just say so. Illustrate the details that paint a mood of fear, anxiety, and danger. The trees are looming above him, dark and foreboding. Growls from the darkness vibrate in the air. The man begins the sweat…
This will really be affected by the genre you are writing in, but is still important for all stories!
The environment will be vastly different from non-fiction, to fantasy, to a modern-day love story. Still, don’t forget to be distinct with your time era, particularly if it heavily influences the storyline.
Typically, books set in the modern day are less likely to go out of their way to indicate the time period, unless they were set around a certain event (election, natural disaster, news event, etc). Use descriptive writing to imprint the environment upon the reader. Post-apocalyptic will look much different from English Regency, right? So what kind of details can you use as the foundation for your story’s era?
Say your story is taking place on a crowded beach!
The beach, sky, and sand is part of the setting, but so are the people. So, go ahead and describe the hordes of bodies strewn across the beach, splashing in the water. Zoom in on a few individuals and paint a picture of their scene.
There’s a woman in a sundress sleeping and getting a sunburn, a family of seven kids running around and screaming, seagulls swooping and snatching unwatched food (it’s happened to me, and yes, it’s terrifying).
Or, maybe the beach is a blurred mass of people so overwhelming the narrator is anxious, and can’t functionally focus on anyone at all. Remember, include details that enrich your story and drives it forward.
Congratulations! You are now one step closer to knowing how to write a story that sings! Not too bad, eh?
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